As a diverse woman in subsea engineering, Allison Selman has experienced a range of highs and lows in her career. Here, she shares her journey towards professional success, personal fulfilment and supporting other women in STEMM.
Riding the waves in an ocean-based career has been unexpected.
Transitioning to the offshore oil and gas sector from mining was the best decision I made. It has led to an international career, which appealed to my passion for travel and learning about other cultures. Within the sector is a plethora of pathways and perspectives that has kept my curiosity engaged for decades.
“My day is typically split between being a business manager and delivering technical work. I love having this balance in my day.”
My current chapter involves balancing many roles, each drawing on my experience, challenging myself to go further and laying a foundation for a future that I do not yet realise.
My full-time role is as Director of Atteris, a pipeline and subsea engineering consultancy. I get involved in governance, strategy, finance, business development, communications, stakeholder management and coaching. My technical role is as the Asset Lifecycle business stream manager, leading a team of engineers to deliver solutions for maintaining the integrity of assets. My day is typically split between being a business manager and delivering technical work. I love having this balance in my day.
“I believe that the best of humanity is realised when you give back and learn to share what you know.”
When I am not working, I volunteer my skills. I believe that the best of humanity is realised when you give back and learn to share what you know. My volunteer work is equally important to me. I volunteer my time to several organisations and am passionate about diversity and inclusion in the engineering profession.
Every career has its lows. Like life, it is not possible to have a perfect journey. Mine has included having unsupportive supervisors, being put on projects without adequate preparation or experience, experiencing harassment and not being treated equally because of my gender or race. One of my biggest challenges was being accepted as an Expatriate in Asia, because of my Asian heritage!
“When things get challenging, I go back to one of the best lessons I have ever had – to always act “above the line”.”
I continue to be saddened by observing that cultural change in Australia is occurring at a glacial pace. The report ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’ on sexual harassment against women in the fly-in fly-out (FIFO) mining industry by the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia (2022) is a damning report that is reflective of what is happening in many industries. Little has changed for women in STEM and unacceptable workplace behaviours are still prevalent.
What makes me keep going? Honestly, it is because I love what I do. When things get challenging, I go back to one of the best lessons I have ever had – to always act “above the line”. Above this line is all things positive – goodness, honesty, integrity, happiness. The converse applies for below the line. When things get tough, I pause and constructively apply “above the line” principles to work through the problem. I am in control of my own feelings, behaviours and actions, including how I respond to each challenge ahead of me.
“The need for change drove me to seek solutions, whether it be to change my work environment or workplace, address harassment and bullying cases or initiate change within my sphere of influence.”
The troughs have often been the triggers to my crests. The need for change drove me to seek solutions, whether it be to change my work environment or workplace, address harassment and bullying cases or initiate change within my sphere of influence.
Driven by the desire to accelerate change, in 2016 I founded the WISE Professional Network, which has the purpose of supporting, developing and promoting Women in STEM professions in ocean-based industries. With an average participation rate of 15% and 5% at the senior level (+20 years’ experience) in the offshore oil & gas sector, more can be done. One of WISE’s programs is the Future Engineers Program, an annual STEM camp for high school girls. The program is educational, experiential and the girls are introduced to female role models from different STEM professions. Our expansion plans include regional scholarships for Indigenous students and launching the program in other Australian states.
“With more female leaders at the decision-making level who can do the same, collectively we can achieve more.”
As a director of a company, I can directly influence my workplace, to ensure including its policies and practices and equitable, and its culture is inclusive. With more female leaders at the decision-making level who can do the same, collectively we can achieve more. The women feel supported through mentoring and coaching programs, and we adopt flexible work arrangements to help parents with young children.
Contributing my diving and subsea engineering skills to support the Major Projects Foundation has been an expected crest. The Foundation is a charity established to protect Pacific islands from the potentially polluting impact of oil spills from shipwrecks that sunk during World War II. The beauty of the underwater world is why I dive and being able to help protect the oceans from pollution is important to me.
“I plan to keep working on change initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in the engineering profession and the offshore industry, and support women who are striving to realise their dreams and achieve their full potential.”
I am excited by the opportunity to explore technical opportunities presented by renewable energies. Having worked in Copenhagen, the home of offshore wind, I would like to transfer my skills and capabilities to help develop the offshore wind industry in Australia.
I plan to keep working on change initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in the engineering profession and the offshore industry, and support women who are striving to realise their dreams and achieve their full potential.
Through this all, if I can help to protect some Pacific islands from potential pollution, that would be beyond cool.
Ms Allison Selman has 24 years’ experience as an engineer in the resource and offshore energy industries in Australia and overseas. She is currently a Director of Atteris, an engineering consultancy. In 2016, she founded the WISE Professional Network to improve diversity in the offshore industry. Allison contributes to Engineering Standards committees, helps to develop competency frameworks and participates in national research initiatives. For her work, she was awarded the 2018 WA Medal and 2019 WA Professional Engineer of the Year by Engineers Australia. She currently serves on the WA Division Committee of Engineers Australia, Industry Advisory Board of the Gravity Discovery Centre and the Major Projects Foundation, the last a charity focussed on saving the environment from potentially polluting shipwrecks.
B.Eng Hons (Materials Engineering), B.Comm (Marketing & Management)
FIEAust, CPEng, NER, APEC IntEng
Photos from the WISE Professional Network’s Future Engineers Program (provided).
WISE Professional Network: http://wise.subseaenergy.org.au/
Major Projects Foundation: https://majorprojects.org.au/
Engineers Australia (WA): https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/About-Us/Divisions/Western-Australia